We still don’t know who blew up the highway, but whoever it was got bored. It was a hospital that blew this time, not just any hospital either, my hospital, the one where I used to work, and where my injuries got patched up when Bobcat tore me a few new orifices.
Lord Vile’s emblems were painted all over the rubble, but Vile did a personal television appearance to deny having anything to do with it. He offered his condolences to the injured, dead and their families. He even sent his red-shirted, goggled goons out in force to help with the rescue efforts. I really don’t get Vile. His schemes kill thousands but when something bad happens in his home town that he’s not personally responsible for, it’s like he gets offended, like he’s the only one allowed to wreak havoc in Austin.
Liberty, Jupiter Joe, and I were in the middle of the mess, trying to get people out of the rubble that used to be a modern four story hospital, plus the basement, underneath, where the ambulances parked and the EMT lockers were. The ramp that lead underneath the hospital was, of course, buried completely. I had really disliked my old boss. But the high probability that he’d been under there when it blew made my throat tight anyway.
Most of the people we pulled out weren’t in any shape to appreciate the rescue. A lot of those folks had already been injured or seriously ill even before the building fell on them. I pulled out far more bodies and smashed parts of bodies than folks who were still breathing.
I saw Novak and Tamara both in their firefighter gear, putting out a nasty blaze that sprung up on one end of the rubble after the initial explosion. With all the canisters of flammable gas that get stored in a hospital, they were desperately trying to cool things down.
Tamara struggled to get her hose stream into the base of a flame that seemed to be resisting her efforts to put it out. It was coming up from below a section of collapsed roof. Every time she got one section snuffed, it would flare up worse in another crack. She was probably fighting a blaze in a hollow below the top layer of stuff. It had to have a fuel source to be that stubborn.
Tamara moved in closer, trying to get to the buried source of the fire. Novak lifted the heavy hose behind her, giving her the slack she needed so she could move farther in.
There was a weird sound from under the rubble, a muffled Foom!
Novak dropped the hose, grabbed Tamara by the back of her coat, spun and tossed her twenty feet into the street. The whole section of rubble on that side exploded all over Novak. Tamara sailed clear of the explosion, landed like being tossed like a football was a perfectly normal part of her day, rolled, and came up unhurt. Debris rained down around her.
“Novak!” I yelled as I ran. I grabbed the wildly spewing and flailing firehose, handed it to the nearest guy in firefighting gear and started ripping my way through the burning wreckage, searching for one buried ex-superhero.
“You need to stay back,” the firefighter shouted at me as I ran right through the flames. “It could blow again!”
All the more reason for me to get Novak out of there now.
A hand stuck out from under a pile of twisted metal girders, and other various chunks of hospital. I tossed cinder blocks, concrete and timbers aside. Novak looked up at me, hazel eyes blinking to clear the dust.
One whole side of Novak’s body was shredded. Bits of shrapnel embedded in his skin stuck out like spines. A couple of the steel girders went clear through his shoulder and belly and came out the other side.
“Shit,” I breathed.
His lips twisted a little. “Should have been wearing my armor, I guess.”
I got so unbelievably angry at him out of nowhere. I wanted to scream and shake him, but it probably would have killed him. “Why the hell weren’t you? Why the hell were you fighting fires and getting yourself blown up, and not even wearing your armor underneath?”
He tried to shrug, but only managed to move one shoulder. The other one was nailed to the concrete block under him. That was all the answer he gave me. It just pissed me off more.
I took my anger out on the metal that had him pinned. I crushed one of the steel girders with my strong left hand, bent it back and forth until I could snap it off. I couldn’t help but move it a little in his wound as I did.
Novak bared his teeth in a grimace of pain.
I tried to stay angry at him. It helped.
The other chunk of steel was straight and short. I figured I could lift him off both of them without doing much additional damage. He’d bleed, though. As soon as I took out the metal plugging the wounds, he’d bleed out in seconds.
The only way I could save him was healing venom. Novak knew I was a dragon now. Hell, he even knew by now, that HE was a dragon, or he wouldn’t have donated blood for me. My venom works best on other dragons, so I knew I could save him if I bit him quickly. I didn’t need to hide my fangs from him, but we were surrounded by news cameras and rescue workers.
I had to get the metal out of his body first. If his body tried to heal around it, that wouldn’t be good.
I worked my arms under his neck and waist.
He groaned as the tiny movement caused him way out of proportion pain. “Serves you right, idiot,” I said softly, losing the last traces of anger. My throat closed with a completely different emotion as I held his battered, bleeding body in my arms.
Novak put his free hand up and touched my face. “Dee, don’t.”
His fingers traced a tear I didn’t remember shedding. It was dusty and smokey and stuff. “Don’t save me this time.”
“Huh?” I looked down at him, blood and dirt smudged all over his handsome, scarred face, and saw the resignation in his eyes.
“This is a good death. I’ve earned it. Just let me go.”
“But …” For half a second, I thought about it. He should have the right. I’d never forced anyone to accept healing when they didn’t want to be healed. Then I got pissed off again. “Novak, you selfish son of a bitch. Damn it, there are hardly any dragons left in the world, thanks to the people you served most of your life. I am not going to let you cop out of life, just because you can’t stand the thought of being like me.”
“I’m not like you, Dee. You’re beautiful and proud. Everything that makes me like you was cut away and thrown in the garbage. I’m not a Georgian anymore either. I’m sure as hell not a hero. I’m just a freak.”
“Aren’t we all,” I said. “Maybe you weren’t paying attention, but there’s some maniac blowing up our city piece by piece. We need you. You don’t get to just check out. You’re the White Knight, Excalibur’s wielder. And that isn’t a responsibility you can ignore, no matter how bad you feel. Now, shut up while I rip a couple of feet of steel out of you.”
I lifted him fast. It was going to hurt any way I did it. At least, this way it would only hurt for a moment.
He screamed and gasped for air.
My arms got soaked with hot liquid as blood gushed out of the two gaping holes in his body.
I had to bite him quick, without anyone else knowing what I was doing. I’d already figured out how to bite someone in front of a bunch of cameras, back when Vlad was nearly killed on Mansfield Dam.
I kissed Novak.
It’s not like it was gross or anything. The guy was hot. It was just that I wanted to smack him most of the time, not kiss him. It was a pretty angry kiss. I bit his tongue with a fang to inject him with venom which was the whole point. No way that stubborn, pig-headed pain in my backside was dying if I could help it. The healing venom slowed the flow of blood over my hands to a trickle, then stopped it.
I started to pull away from the kiss, but Novak put his free hand behind my head, fisted it in the hair at the base of my neck and kissed me back, hard.
I didn’t know what to do. No one had ever kissed me like that before. Jack was always really sweet and gentle, and the two times I’d kissed Vlad had been all me, with Vlad just accepting whatever I was willing to give.
Novak practically devoured me.
It was … kind of … exciting, actually. I can’t believe I even just wrote that, but yeah. It was an awesome kiss. I started to pull away, but Novak was nearly as strong as me. He held my head tight to his. After a second or two, pulling away just didn’t seem all that urgent.
I’m not sure how long it was until he finally let me up for air, but I had a hard time catching my breath. The last time he kissed me, I threw him off a building. You’d think he would have learned his lesson. “Damn it, Novak. Why do have to be such an ass?”
“It’s a gift,” he said with a twist of lips like a pale echo of the cocky know-it-all smartass I met a year ago.
I carried him through the flames, shielding him with my fireproof self inside my new fireproof suit. Then I wasn’t sure what to do with him.
I saw an ambulance parked on the street. An ambulance, yeah. That seemed like a sensible place to take a badly injured man.
The back doors were locked. It was a unit just like my old one. I felt a pang of nostalgia. I looked around for the paramedics for the unit. I finally spotted Angela, who had been Jack’s partner briefly, sitting on the curb, watching the hospital where she’d worked for years burn. There were injured everywhere, walking wounded wandering past while she just sat and stared.
“Hey! Some help here.” I kicked her lightly to get her attention.
She stood up listlessly and looked at Novak. “You’ll have to take him somewhere else, maam.” She didn’t recognize me in the new getup.
“Somewhere else? Was there a stupid gas in that explosion? Open the damn doors of this unit and get this man to a hospital. Now!”
“But the hospital is gone,” she said in a lost little voice.
“Then drive him to another one.” I spoke to her like she was retarded. She was acting like it.
“Dave, is inside. He usually drives. He just went back in to get something.” Her voice trailed off again. She stared, mesmerized, at the pile of rubble and flickering flame.
And I yelled at her and called her stupid. I felt like pond scum.
The ramp that led down under the hospital was buried completely. Anyone who had been down there when it blew was buried now under four stories of former building.
I swallowed. If I still worked here, it could have been me sitting on the curb, lost. It could have been Jack who just went back for a minute because he forgot something.
I looked down at Novak. He’d lost consciousness. I listened to him with my sensitive hearing. His heartbeat was way too fast. He’d lost too much blood. I needed to get him to a hospital, and donate for him, or he might die even with healing venom in his system.
I laid him gently down on the sidewalk right in front of Angela.
“Angela, it’s Dee. We’ve got a thoracic trauma vic. Lost a lot of blood. He’s tachycardic,” I said it as if this were an ordinary call. I handed her Novak’s wrist, so she could feel his rapid pulse under her fingers. Angela and I didn’t always get along, but she was a good paramedic. I needed to get her focused on doing her job, instead of on what happened to her partner. “What’s our tack?”
“He needs a saline drip stat and immediate transport,” she said without thinking. She reached for her kit automatically, but she’d left it in the unit. EMS folks do half their jobs while they’re barely awake enough to function. She’d gone into her automatic mode.
She pulled the keys out of her pocket, unlocked the unit and pulled out her kit. We maneuvered Novak out of his coat, then cut away the rest from his upper body. Trying to cut through a firefighter’s coat is more trouble than it’s worth. Those things are made of sturdy stuff.
Angela got a drip going into Novak’s arm while I pulled the gurney over.
“1, 2, 3 Lift.” We got him onto the gurney, loaded in the unit and I took the keys from Angela’s hand. “I’ll drive.”
She nodded absently, focused on her patent, not on the still burning wreckage where her partner used to be.
I dropped Novak at St. David’s along with a couple pints of my blood.
He’ll be okay, physically. That death wish thing isn’t just going to go away, though.
I’m not really sure what to do about that.
Unfortunately, I am pretty sure it’s on me. I broke him. I shattered his belief in himself, his mission, everything that mattered to him. I thought I’d picked up the pieces and got him going again, but apparently not.
I drove the ambulance, with Angela, back to the rubble that used to be a hospital. We made several more trips, transporting the worst injured. It wasn’t what Liberty would have told me to do. She’d have assumed that someone else could do this. She’d have told me I should do the superheroic stuff, and leave this sort of thing to the normals.
But I’m an EMT and it needed doing.